With the new book, 60 Pieced Quilt Borders – Mix & Match, coming out soon, I’m going to do a mini-series of border tutorials . . mostly just a few blog posts about the way I do my borders. There’s almost always more than one way to do things and there are plenty of ways to do most everything quilt related so I’m not saying my way is the only way or my way is the right or best way . . I’ll simply be sharing with you how I do borders.
After all of the border related blog posts have been made, I’ll do one summary post and tag that one as a “tutorial” so you’ll be able to click on the tutorial tab above and find the posts for future reference.
When I began longarm quilting for others in 1998, I realized that borders can create real problems. I never thought much about it but the lady who did my longarm quilting for me might have had major issues with my borders. There are so many little areas that can make such a difference when adding borders.
Not every quilt has or needs to have a border. But if you’re adding a border, there are some “do’s and don’ts” that might help you. If you do add borders and do everything completely different from how I do them and yours work just fine for you, that’s great. But if you’re struggling a bit with borders or with wavy edges on your quilts, maybe some of my tips here will help you.
The first step to have nice straight and flat borders is to be sure you are cutting your fabric straight and square. This lesson works for any portion of the quilt you’re cutting. Your fabric must be straight and square or you will get wonky cuts at the folds. In order to cut your strips, you’re probably going to have at least one fold in the fabric.
Above, the fabric is shown with just the one fold so that the width of the fabric we’re working with is about 21″. I do not enjoy working with a piece of fabric this wide. My reach is not long enough and I prefer to fold it again so that I’m working with about 10″ or 11″ of fabric. This means there are two folds that must be perfectly straight or there will be flares at the fold lines, resulting in a wavy border that doesn’t fit well. To ensure that your folds are nice and straight, make sure that your selvages are together. I like to tear the edge of my fabric and that gives me a straighter edge to start with. Then I match the selvages and make sure that they line up for 12 – 15″ down the fabric.
Once the selvages are together and perfectly straight, smooth the fabric back towards the fold like, making sure there are no wrinkles and that the fabric lays completely flat at the fold.
Bring the fold up to the selvage, creating the second fold at the bottom. Line the bottom fold up with a horizontal line on your cutting mat. Make sure the top of this fabric piece, which consists of the original fold, and the selvages, is lined up straight too. It may not fall right on a cutting mat horizontal line but it should be an equal distance from the cutting mat line all the way down the fabric.
Position your ruler so that a horizontal line is perfectly aligned with the bottom fold. Check along the top line (where there’s a fold and the two selvages) and make sure that it is perfectly straight also. Again, it may not fall right on a horizontal line but it should be straight all the way across.
For this first cut, I always cut just a tad extra and then flip the cut strip around and trim it. For this example, my border strips are to be cut 5-1/2″ wide. For this first cut, I will cut it about 6″ wide. I could use the vertical line on my cutting mat and cut a straight line off the far left edge but I find that without at least an inch or so of fabric under the ruler, my cut isn’t always perfect so I always cut the first strip a little wider and then trim the other side.
- Change your rotary blade often enough! I tend to wait until I’m practically sawing through fabric and most of the time don’t even realize how dull my blade has gotten until I use someone else’s cutter and then am shocked at how dull my own blade is.
- Check the edges of your rulers. Over time, we do tend to wear down the edges a bit. I wear mine down right in the center so that after a lot of use, my ruler can be as much as 1/8″ worn down and my strips are no longer straight.
- Check your cutting mat. They do wear out or get ruts. The little bath scrubbies made out of net that you can usually buy for about $1 work great to clean threads out of ruts but if your mat is showing signs of wear, give it up and get a new one.
Once that first strip has been cut, flip that strip around, line the left edge up with a vertical line on your mat, line the bottom edge up with a horizontal line on your ruler, making sure the width is exactly correct (in this case, the strip needs to be 5-1/2″) and trim away the extra.
As I’m cutting my strips, I’m always checking to be sure a horizontal line on my ruler matches up with the bottom fold line of my fabric, the top fold/selvage lines are straight, and the left hand line on the ruler is lining up (at the 5-1/2″ mark in this case). After cutting 5 or 6 strips, no matter how careful I am with my cutting, it seems I begin to get off a bit. When this happens, after lining up the fold lines with horizontal lines on the ruler, I simply cut the next strip just a little wider than the needed width, flip the strip around and trim the excess and keep going.
Cutting straight strips from a straight piece of fabric is so important to having flat borders that fit perfectly!